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“Are we really so short of people?”

Hanna Hopko, other politicians and experts have sharply criticized the appointment of career soldier Petro Lytvyn as ambassador to Armenia
25 June, 2018 - 17:26
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

Recently, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko made two new appointments to the Ukrainian diplomatic service: he approved the appointment of retired Ukrainian army commander Lieutenant-General Petro Lytvyn as our ambassador to Armenia, and that of Ihor Tumasov as ambassador to the Republic of Peru. The decrees have been made public on the website of the Presidential Administration.

The decision to appoint Lytvyn caused a wave of dissatisfaction. After all, the official biography of Lytvyn makes clear that he graduated from Kyiv Armor Engineering Academy, the National Defense Academy of Ukraine and served in various officer postings. However, it lists no experience in the diplomatic service. In addition, there have been numerous damaging media reports, most recently repeated by MP Yurii Bereza, who said in the chamber on June 20: “This is the Lytvyn who abandoned his soldiers in the Sector D in eastern Ukraine. This is the Lytvyn whose actions might have cost me and my brothers-in-arms our lives.”

It is worth recalling that the Lytvyn family is quite prominent in Ukrainian politics. Petro Lytvyn’s brothers Volodymyr and Mykola also held high positions. Volodymyr Lytvyn was speaker of the Verkhovna Rada and chief of the Presidential Administration, while General of the Army of Ukraine Mykola Lytvyn served as chairman of the State Border Guard Service. “I want to remind you that we have a ‘heroic’ little family here, with one of its members sitting here in the chamber, who welcomed the Kharkiv Agreements and has attacked the Ukrainian state and Ukrainians every time he has spoken... And another hero is the newly appointed ambassador of Ukraine to Armenia,” Bereza noted in his speech as well.

“Mr. President, look into the eyes of the mothers of those who have not returned from this war..,” the MP continued. “Lytvyn’s appointment confirms the thesis that there is corruption in this chamber... Unfortunately, the aggressor state spends a lot of money to ensure that such people as Lytvyn retain influence on the government policy of Ukraine. I would like to appeal once again to Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin. Friends, you have crossed the line... I know that such a person would not have been allowed to become ambassador in any other country. Shame on you.”

Chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Foreign Affairs Hanna Hopko has criticized the president’s decision as well. She reminded those present that her committee had been advocating the norm requiring candidates for ambassadorial positions to undergo preliminary consultations, so as to allow the committee to “sift out unprofessional people who bring dishonor to Ukraine.” “Instead, we have seen Poroshenko appointing his own associates. Are we really so short of people? Is the Ukrainian diplomatic service totally lacking people who can represent Ukraine with dignity? We saw other personnel appointments before. I now understand why Poroshenko has vetoed the Law of Ukraine ‘On the Diplomatic Service,’ which we approved here on April 5 with 276 votes in favor. He did not like consultations in the relevant committee. And this is not about specific people serving on the committee. This is about institutions, about the principle which people fought for after the Maidan, I mean ensuring that the institutions defend human rights regardless of who occupies what position,” she said.

How are experts commenting on this appointment?

“WE SEE A WEAK CANDIDATE AND A WEAK POLITICAL DECISION WHICH REFLECTS A SYSTEMIC PROBLEM”

Bohdan YAREMENKO, chairman of the board at the Maidan of Foreign Affairs Foundation:

“Appointment of Petro Lytvyn as ambassador of Ukraine to Armenia illustrates a systemic problem plaguing foreign policy governance in Ukraine. In accordance with the Constitution, the president of Ukraine, unusually for mixed parliamentary-presidential systems, has been given executive powers: he not only represents Ukraine in international relations, but effectively manages all foreign policy activities, and also very carefully protects his right to stay uncontrolled.

“Recently, the parliament attempted, with the law ‘On the Diplomatic Service,’ to enact provisions requiring consultations in the parliamentary committee when appointing ambassadors, but the president has vetoed it. However, he made a counter-proposal to present candidates for ambassadorial positions to the committee, but presentation and consultations are different things, since presentation is just a way to get people acquainted with a matter, while consultations are a form of approval, and hence a form of control. We, meanwhile, do not have public and parliamentary control over foreign policy activities. Therefore, the president, guided by the belief that he is constitutionally empowered to do so, makes decisions at his own discretion.

“In this case, this decision is subject to criticism in every regard. Firstly, the candidate itself looks suspicious. Why is a soldier getting appointed, and not a diplomat, who knows the Armenian language or understands the intricacies of the diplomatic service? Is not there a better candidate? Moreover, that soldier has, unfortunately, a very problematic reputation, which is associated with the Ilovaisk tragedy. In addition, he is a brother of Volodymyr Lytvyn. Obviously, this appointment is based precisely on such connections and nepotism. He has no professional qualities, knowledge, skills needed to serve as an ambassador, especially in such a complex country with which we have a lot of fundamental disagreements. I do not understand why his candidacy is any better than the candidacy of any department head in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Secondly, why is our ambassador getting appointed to Armenia at all? After all, that country, which is an ally of Russia, officially voted against the UN resolution that supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and therefore, Armenia does not recognize the territorial integrity of our state. Thus, the absence of a Ukrainian ambassador there can be considered a way of expressing disagreement with its position. This is a weak demarche, but a demarche nevertheless.

“That is, we see a weak candidate and a weak political decision that cannot be explained, because we are completely in the dark about personnel selection with its defining principles and criteria, since it happens behind closed doors and shuttered windows in the Presidential Administration.

“All this testifies to the fact that the diplomatic service is in a state of decay, and it is probably already as bad as it gets. The foreign policy service has turned into a PR department for the president. And this is not only about Poroshenko, such a situation took shape quite a long time ago, and it was like this, in fact, with all the presidents. The president has the right to appoint ambassadors at his own discretion, but whether this is reasonable and what criteria are used in exercising this right, we do not know. And this is a big problem.”

“GIVEN THE BAD PUBLICITY, THE PRESIDENT WOULD DO WELL TO EXPLAIN TO THE PUBLIC WHAT THE DECISION WAS BASED ON”

Vasyl FILIPCHUK, chairman of the board at the International Center for Policy Studies:

“There are two major ways of appointing ambassadors around the world. For example, in the US, these are mostly purely political appointments, while in European countries, ambassadors are appointed from among career diplomats. In Ukraine, as a rule, ambassadors are appointed from among high-level career diplomats who have worked for a certain time in the diplomatic service and meet the requirements for an ambassadorial posting. Still, a certain part of the appointments is political by nature: people who have a certain political weight get appointed to such positions.

“It is unclear what was the logic behind the appointment of this person as ambassador to Armenia. On the one hand, he is definitely not a career diplomat who has gone down the diplomatic service path and can occupy this post. On the other hand, he is not a politician either. This is the result of some personal decisions on the part of the president. Considering the problematic qualities of this person, he probably had some compelling reasons to make this appointment.

“Indeed, Armenia is not a G7 country and not one of Ukraine’s Top 5 priorities. Still, it is an important country for us: we have a large Armenian community, there are certain interests, we have a partnership with Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijani-Armenian relations are very complicated. Therefore, a highly skilled diplomat should be appointed to this post. Requirements are very high there. Everyone in the diplomatic service remembers former Ambassador Oleksandr Bozhko, who served in Armenia for a long time and worked to maintain good relations between our two countries.

“Given the bad publicity, the president would do well to explain to the public what the decision was based on. This is not a personal patronage service for the head of state or a position at his factory. These are government positions that require nation-level thinking and statesman-like responsibility. It is doubtful whether the criteria of statesman-like responsibility were in fact met with this appointment.

“The question is important and significant in public opinion, therefore the president should explain to the public why he has made such an appointment, and what determined his decision.

“Another aspect is that this decision calls into question the credibility of the diplomatic service. We have a lot of good, high-quality career diplomats. The ambassadorial position is not a sinecure. However, the impression is that it is precisely that: if you are a good friend of the president, but he cannot get you a position here, then you can go serve as an ambassador for a good salary, plus you get to use an ambassadorial residence, a car, a chauffeur, and so on. The impression is that decisions are made sometimes to satisfy one’s friends’ avarice. I really do not want this to be true.”

By Natalia PUSHKARUK, The Day

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